More than 80,000 fans packed into the Stade de France in Paris for Nathan Sharpe’s first run-on as a Wallaby in 2002. In the ensuing 11 years there’ve been highs and lows, including that nail-biting World Cup loss to England in 2003. The tallest man in the lineout reflects on a stellar career and, just as importantly, looks forward to what comes next.t.
“In some ways I feel I’m starting all over again but I’m excited about the next stage of my life. There’s still so much to do! I do miss the team environment and that’s hardly surprising because I was closely involved with a group of really good players. My overriding feeling running on as a Wallaby was not to be the weakest link in the chain. I didn’t want to let my mates down in a high-pressure environment,” Nathan said.
“There are some moments, such as the World Cup loss, that are tinged with a bit of sadness. We ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard against England and you don’t get more than one bite at a cherry that size.”
Nathan has made the move to the mining sector, specifically heavy machinery and labour hire, primarily based in Brisbane but returning to Perth to see his family.
“Everything is pretty bullish in Queensland at the moment and coal is obviously a driving factor in that. I’m finding it quite difficult to juggle all my commitments and I haven’t got my work-life balance quite right yet. There’s very much a team focus within the mining industry and that’s helped me to make the transition from a playing career.”
“I’m affiliated with a few corporate organisations in an ambassadorial role and I’d like to develop my public speaking profile. Rugby at an international level helped me develop those skills and I’m comfortable moving from a high-level executive environment to an underground shift-change.”
The physical transition from elite professional sport to the workaday existence most of us know so well appears to have progressed smoothly for Nathan.
“The last scan I had they told me I had the knees of a 20 year-old so I was happy with that! I’m feeling pretty good at the moment, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see if it catches up with me in a few years.”
Nonetheless, Nathan stood head and shoulders above the rest – literally! He topped the tape at two metres exactly (nearly 6’7’’ in the old language) and was the ‘go-to’ man in the lineouts. When you’re descending from a great height with a rugby ball held above your head there’s bound to be a problem or two.
“Rolled ankles, lateral ligament strains and, with taller guys, there’s a real risk of shoulder injuries due to your arms acting as long levers above your head. My injury list was interesting, but nothing too serious. I’ve had a shoulder reconstruction, knee arthroscope, bicep reattachment, lacerations – including one on my eyeball, front teeth knocked out and a couple of hernias. I guess it might catch up with me in a few years.”
Clearly, a productive relationship with medical staff was imperative.
“I built up a good relationship with Dr Mike Cadogan at the Western Force and he’s still a close mate. In the course of a professional career you spend a bit of time with the medical people and they have links with the specialists so it’s important to develop a sense of trust between players and support staff.”
The issue of performance-enhancing drugs in sport is contentious though Rugby Union seems to have emerged pretty well, so far.
“I certainly didn’t see any sign of it when I was playing and we were tested randomly, both post-game and at training. There’d be about four or five players chosen and you’d always hope it wouldn’t be you because inevitably you’d have just been to the toilet. Then you’d just have to sit and wait to deliver a sample.”
Most international rugby players have got tall tales and true tucked away in their kit bag. So, does Nathan Sharpe have a biography waiting in the wings?
“No, if I was going to write one I’d want to do it truthfully and I don’t see the point in potentially ruining relationships. The truth can be a bit harsh at times so you end up skimming over some things. I’ve had a wonderful career and I wouldn’t want to bring it to a close by being contentious just for the sake of it.”
And a last word on the ‘final siren’ from the most capped Wallaby forward of all time?
“I’m lucky that I’ve had some control over my retirement. I’ve been able retire to something rather than from rugby. Not everyone gets to do that. It’s so important to make the most of the professional networks within the sport and to enjoy the game while you’re there. When it’s all over it happens very quickly!”
Wallabies 2002-12, 116 Caps
Super Rugby Brisbane Reds, 1999-2005 70 Caps
Western Force 2006-12, 92 Caps